About the course
The Department of Zoology maintains a large and interactive group of around 170 DPhil students at any one time, working in the research areas of the department.
As a doctoral student at the Department of Zoology, your primary focus will be your research, which will usually be conducted within one or more of the existing research groups. In addition, you will be encouraged to make the most of the doctoral training and research methods provision available across the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division. The department also provides training to all DPhil students that focuses on developing research skills.
Doctoral research projects can be based on fieldwork (sometimes in remote places), laboratory experiments, analysis of existing data sets, or mathematical theory, but in all cases must be original and rigorous, leading to publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
You will be part of a vibrant educational research community that includes an active set of doctoral student-led events, seminars and workshops. You will have the opportunity to present and discuss your work in progress with your supervisor, other faculty members and peers, informally day-to-day and by attending a variety of seminars and workshops in the department and at conferences elsewhere.
MSc by Research in Zoology
In exceptional cases, the department also takes students who wish to study for a MSc by Research in Zoology, which typically takes two years. Since few students are accepted to this degree, there must be a strong academic case.
The minimum time in which a student can submit their final thesis for an MSc by Research is one year, and the maximum fee liability for an MSc by Research is two years, but the overall course length is three years.
The first step in applying is to contact a potential supervisor or supervisors to discuss potential projects. For further details and to apply to the MSc by Research, please contact Heather Green.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Zoology and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances, a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Zoology.
All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of six terms as a PRS student (and normally by the fourth term) you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status.
Transfer of status is assessed based on a report that summarises progress made as a PRS student and outlines the content and structure of the proposed DPhil thesis. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status within nine terms of admission, to show that your work continues to be on track.
Both milestones normally involve an interview with two assessors and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.
You will be expected to submit a substantial thesis after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Zoology you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of one Oxford based and one external examiner.
Zoology graduates, like DPhil graduates in biological sciences at Oxford as a whole, continue to a wide range of careers after graduating. Between 2008-13, 84% of DPhil graduates continued in bioscience-related posts, of which almost two thirds involved academic research.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in subjects appropriate to the DPhil project.
Admission to the DPhil in Zoology does not normally require a master's level qualification.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- Evidence of genuine interest in biology and sometimes other relevant fields of research (eg mathematics, engineering, and statistics) will also be taken into consideration. This might be demonstrated by, for example, having undertaken independent field work or research, relevant vacation employment, or having already made research publications or presentations.
- Publications are not required.
- It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor.
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
English language requirement
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
|TOEFL iBT (Institution code: 0490)||110||Listening: 22|
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.
Interviews are held as soon as is practicable after the applications have been assessed by the potential supervisor(s) and a mutually convenient date is found for the panel members. Interviews will normally be in person for candidates resident in the UK, and by video conference for overseas candidates where it is not possible for them to attend in person. There will always be a minimum of two interviewers.
The interviews will normally be approximately half an hour long, and will involve a ten minute presentation by the candidate on a suitable topic. Interviewees will be expected to answer questions based upon their presentation but potentially covering other relevant topics. Answers should demonstrate general knowledge, understanding of and enthusiasm for a particular area of research, competence in presentation skills and the English language, and where appropriate, numeracy in the treatment of biological data.
Other indicators will include suitability in terms of skill base and academic background for the DPhil in question, ability to discuss fundamental aspects of the relevant field (e.g. evolutionary biology, animal welfare, biomechanics, animal behaviour) in adequate depth and reasoning ability when answering biological questions.
Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
After an offer is made
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)
Some postgraduate research students in science, engineering and technology subjects will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate prior to applying for a Tier 4 visa. Further information can be found on our Tier 4 (General) Student visa page. For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.
The Department of Zoology has research strengths spanning from evolution to ecology, behaviour to biomechanics, and development to disease.
Despite its traditional name, the department covers research on animals, environments, plants, bacteria and viruses. Within the department are several research institutes, including the Edward Grey Institute (EGI), the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS).
The EGI, founded in 1938, conducts research into the ecology, conservation, behaviour and evolution of birds, and is well known for its long-term population studies at Wytham Woods. Professor Ben Sheldon is the current EGI Director and is Luc Hoffmann Professor in Field Ornithology.
The Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS) work at the interface of social and ecological systems, using a range of methodologies and interdisciplinary approaches to address key issues in current conservation. The research is focused around better understanding and influencing human behaviour and its impact on nature. Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland is the Group Leader.
The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), directed by Professor David Macdonald CBE, is based at Tubney House eight miles from Oxford and seeks solutions to conservation problems through scientific research.
In addition to external speakers, the department has internal seminar series where principal investigators, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students discuss their latest results in a constructive but challenging environment.
The Alexander Library of Ornithology is one of the foremost ornithological reference libraries in the world. It has a stock of around 11,000 books, 85,500 offprints/reports, 476 theses, some 500 current journals plus another 1,500 non-current journals.
The Radcliffe Science Library subscribes to over 20,000 journals and all University members can access them either on the University network or remotely. The RSL also houses more than 1m volumes of printed materials and is one of the UK’s largest science libraries.
The University Club
The University Club, the crescent-shaped building with a glass roof next to our Zoology Research and Administration Building, provides sporting, social and hospitality facilities for all staff, graduate students, alumni and retired staff of the University and associated institutions. There is a gym, bar, café, lounge, sports facilities and accommodation. Food is available from the café throughout the day and also from the bar between 18.00 and 21.00 each day. There are also plasma screens installed throughout the building and a large screen in the lounge/AV area.
Regular social and networking events are also held in the University Club and in the Zoology Research and Administration Building.
The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources. Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2021-22
Annual Course fees
|Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,|
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
|Overseas (including EU)||£27,460|
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.
Many projects have associated costs such as field work, consumables and laboratory costs. These are usually covered by scholarships but not always. Students will need to establish with their supervisor whether they have funding available to cover any such costs.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Zoology:
How to apply
The first step in the application process is to identify the areas of research that interest you and a named potential supervisor(s) within the Department of Zoology.
You will need to research the profiles of the department’s academics. Once you have identified a potential supervisor(s), you should contact them to discuss potential projects and funding routes.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
A maximum of 1,000 words
You should submit a detailed outline of your proposed research, written in English, covering areas such as the background to the research, methodology, expected results and the contribution to the field of learning. The overall page count should include any bibliography.
However, in the case of applications for departmental or industrial studentships where a project has already been formulated, a personal statement of around 750 words should be submitted in place of a research proposal.
In such cases, your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- reasons for applying
- coherence of the proposal
- originality of the project
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
- ability to present a reasoned case in English
- feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course
- commitment to the subject
- preliminary knowledge of research techniques
- capacity for sustained and intense work
- reasoning ability and ability to absorb new ideas.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, all of which must be academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
The references you provide should be academic. References will be assessed for the evidence they provide of your academic achievements, interests, and personal motivation. The selection committee will take into account the academic experience of the referee, as a scholar and as a teacher of successful graduate students.
Start or continue an application
Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.
Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.
Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and plan your time to submit your application well in advance.
Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.
Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).